tree growth showing OML

Why Operational Maturity Level can Make or Break You 

Within the IT industry, there’s a concept called Operational Maturity Level (OML). Very simply put, it’s a way of ranking how mature the people, processes, and standards are of your company. 

The term ‘OML’ typically only applies to our industry. It was derived from the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) developed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. 

I know you’re saying, “I’m don’t run an IT support company, and I’m not a Software Engineer. So why are you telling me all of this?”

It occurred to me that there are some fundamental business principles at work in these models that apply to any business, anywhere, any time. If you’ll stick with me for just a minute, I think you might find a useful nugget in here somewhere. 

What is OML?

Deriving the OML of your company is pretty intense. You must evaluate everything from how you compensate your team to how you utilize budgeting within your company to how you serve your clients. At the end of all of this, you’re assigned a “maturity” level from 1 to 5, with an indicator if you are moving in the right direction. One is less mature, five is best of class mature. 

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with being anywhere on this scale if you are satisfied there. Higher maturity typically brings more profitability, but there’s a lot more to it than that. But again, the methodology and even the outcome of the analysis isn’t the point of this article. 

The point is that there’s a direct correlation between the satisfaction among vendor and client and how close they are in OML

How OML Impacts Your IT Experience

For example, if we’re an OML 4.5 at Infinity and we take on a client that’s an OML 1, it’s unlikely to be satisfactory for either one of us. Similarly, if we’re an OML 2 and take on a client that’s an OML 5, it’s also unlikely to be satisfactory. 

Why is that?

Couldn’t a more mature IT company help a less mature client (let’s say, a small doctor’s office) grow in maturity? Or couldn’t a less mature IT company be made into a ‘better version of itself’ by working with a mature manufacturing firm? 


Let’s take a look at my first example:  

What are the characteristics of a high-OML IT firm? They are going to be very process driven. When dealing with everything from how a ticket is put in and resolved to how projects are run and even to how consultative they are with their clients, everything will be based on a process that they have developed and know will bring success. 

So how will that work with our low-OML doctor’s office? If they are low-OML, they probably will do many things manually rather than automated. Their hours are likely to be more unpredictable. Security (in general) will be more of an afterthought. At this OML, you are doing what you have to in order to stay alive and take care of your clients; you don’t have a lot of time to think strategy. So when your IT account manager (or consultant or vCIO) calls to set up a quarterly strategy meeting, all that’s going to mean to the doctor is that they have to give up lunch, not see patients, or work late to accommodate that meeting. 

Now for the second example:

On the flip side, an IT firm on the low-OML side of things will probably be less proactive and more reactive to client needs. Tickets may well get resolved, but they will not necessarily be solved in the same way each time, or take the same amount of time to solve, so the results for the client are likely to be inconsistent.

A low-OML IT firm typically either doesn’t have a wide range of product offerings OR they offer anything and everything they perceive someone could want, just to keep the business. Even if they can’t vet or support all those offerings well.

Match that with a high-OML manufacturing firm, and you have disaster. The inconsistent support ticket results cause more headaches for the manufacturing staff. The client doesn’t know what to expect, so they try to find their own workarounds. The lack of strategic planning leaves the client unprepared for what comes next in their industry. 

Now step back from the IT world.

How Could Operating Maturity Apply to Your Industry and Your Clients?

A really simple example might be a house painter.

High-OML painter knows his product choices well, plans for contingencies, carefully tapes off hazard areas, has a backup plan for employee issues, and so on. And high-OML doesn’t necessarily mean big in business size, by the way, it just means more mature. 

If the homeowner is a low-OML and the painter is a high, the homeowner is likely not going to be willing to pay the higher price for the costs of doing things in a more mature way. They may not care if there’s a little paint on the windows – their expectation is low. The homeowner probably also doesn’t know everything that goes into a high-quality painting job and just thinks the cost is price gouging.

This same matching of maturity levels probably applies to you. It all comes down to ‘fit.’ 

Every possible client is not a good prospect for you. Some of this relates to money, some of it to expectation. 

There will always be ‘low cost leaders’ in every industry, and there will always be clients that want that. And there will always be ‘high value leaders’ in every industry. These may cost more up front (though not always), but they are more mature and work hard to make sure things are done the right way, possibly at the cost of higher prices or longer production times. 

It’s not a bad thing to be a company with low operational maturity if that suits you and your client base.

And it’s not a bad thing to be a company with high operational maturity; you’ve often gone through a lot to get there. 

The important thing is nosce te ipsum, a latin phrase meaning “know thyself.” (For The Matrix fans, you’ll know this is also stated as temet nosce in the scene when Neo first visits the Oracle in her kitchen. But I digress.)  

The follow-up to knowing yourself is “know thy customer.”

Good matches make great relationships. 

~   ~   ~

That’s the end of my two cents. But I’m here if you’re interested in talking more about the specific levels or the evaluation process.

And if you’re curious about Infinity’s OML, take a look at our About page and our core business offering, IT managed services. Make a guess and tell me what you think. It’s very different now from what it was when we started in 1999.